Many believe Jesus came to do away with the law, based in part on what Paul wrote in Romans 10:4. Is this true? What the Bible says might surprise you!
The apostle Paul wrote, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). Many assume this means Jesus Christ did away with the law. But that interpretation is in direct contradiction to Jesus’ own words: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:17-18).
The word “fulfill” in verse 17 is from the Greek word pleroo, meaning “to fill up, to fill to the full” (The King James Version New Testament Greek Lexicon). Therefore, Christ was not saying He ended the law, but rather that His thoughts and actions perfectly embodied its every intent. He “filled it to the full.”
The word “fulfilled” in verse 18 is from the word ginomai, meaning “to become,” “made” or “finished” (ibid.). That is to say, the law will continue throughout God’s plan for humankind! It did not end 2,000 years ago.
Jesus Himself declared that He did not destroy the law. In fact, Jesus went on to denounce anyone who would teach differently: “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19).
Meaning of “Christ is the end of the law”
Paul originally wrote Romans in the Greek language, which does not always translate into modern languages in a readily understandable way. Unfortunately, the Greek word telos is often translated “end.” This gives today’s reader a different impression than it gave those who read the letter in Paul’s day.
The word telos can be translated differently depending on the context. It can mean “end result or ultimate fate” (Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 2006, “End”). It can also mean “‘the aim or purpose’ of a thing” (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1985, “End, Ending”).
The NKJV Study Bible says, “End can mean ‘fulfillment’; that is, Christ fulfilled all the requirements of the law. It can also mean ‘goal,’ to say that Christ was the object to which the law led” (2007, comments on Romans 10:4).
The fact that telos can mean “goal” is clearly demonstrated by the New King James translation of 1 Timothy 1:5: “Now the purpose of the commandment is love” (emphasis added throughout). The word “purpose” comes from the Greek word telos. Other translations render it as “aim” (New Revised Standard Version) and “goal” (New International Version, Holman Christian Standard Bible).
Paul’s view of the law
What is the correct way to translate telos in Romans 10:4? A fundamental rule of sound Bible study is to allow the Bible to interpret itself. In this case, we can find other passages where Paul wrote about the law to determine his view of it.
A good example of his perspective is found in Romans 7:7, where he wrote: “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet.’”
Clearly, Paul considered that God’s law, stated in the 10 Commandments, continued to define sin for New Testament believers.Clearly, Paul considered that God’s law, stated in the 10 Commandments, continued to define sin for New Testament believers.
Many additional scriptures show us that Paul held God’s law in high regard—certainly not believing that it was done away. He wrote: “Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Romans 7:12) and, “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters” (1 Corinthians 7:19).
Therefore, it is clear that Paul meant “Christ is the goal, purpose or objective of the law” in Romans 10:4—not that Jesus put an end to the law!
Often Paul’s words are distorted and misapplied in an attempt to teach that keeping God’s law is no longer required. Nothing could be further from the truth than claiming that Paul was against the law of God!
Evidently some people twisted Paul’s words in the New Testament period too. Peter wrote: “As also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16, emphasis added). Unfortunately, this practice of misinterpreting Paul’s words continues today.
God’s law leads us to Christ
What, then, does “Christ is the end of the law” mean? There are at least two ways that Jesus Christ is the goal, ultimate aim or objective of the law.
- God’s law defines sin (Romans 7:7; 1 John 3:4). Said another way, the law shows what righteousness is—the opposite of sin. Because all have broken the law, we are deserving of death (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Our own righteousness cannot save us (Galatians 2:16). The law convicts us that we are guilty of sin, for it plainly shows how short we fall of God’s expectations. Therefore, the law shows us that we need a Savior, which we have in Jesus Christ. In this way, Christ is the ultimate end, or objective, of the law.
- God’s law leads us to think and act as Jesus did. A popular question in recent years is “What would Jesus do?” This question is often abbreviated as WWJD. As surprising as it must seem to those who have been told the law is done away with, the Bible clearly shows that Jesus kept the law. John wrote, “He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:6). God gave us His law so that we could learn to be like Him. God is love. All that He does is motivated by love. God’s Commandments teach us how to show love toward Him and toward one another. When we ask what Jesus would do and then do what Jesus did, we learn to be like Him.
When Jesus was asked which commandment was the greatest, He replied; “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).
God’s 10 Commandments amplify these two great laws. Paul did not teach against the Commandments; he taught that they were still binding for Christians.
To understand God’s Word, we sometimes have to delve more deeply into the context and meaning of the original language. Understanding God’s truth accurately is exciting, but the greatest joy comes from acting on what you understand. We encourage you to prove the truth this article covers by checking every reference in your Bible. And then we urge you to begin doing what you know God expects of you.
Don’t stop now. Learn more in our free booklet God’s 10 Commandments: Still Relevant Today.